This week’s question: How often are Catholics obligated to go to Confession?
Here is a ‘phoney’ question (one that I received via phone call), and it’s one that I’m happy to attempt a response to here. So, as always, thanks for asking!
The Sacraments are God’s way of sharing life. You and I come to share in His life, and He comes to share in our lives. That’s why they are so necessary for our life of faith! There are some sacraments that give us a permanent ‘seal’, and as such, we can only receive them once. These are: Baptism – by which we are permanently marked (sealed) as children of God; Confirmation – by which we are permanently sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit; Holy Orders – by which a man is permanently changed into a priest; and Matrimony – by which a man and a woman become “one flesh” with one another.
There are other sacraments, though, that we are meant to receive over and over again – as often as is either possible or necessary. These are: Eucharist, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick. So now to your question: How often are Catholics obligated to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? The answer: as often as necessary. Ok, that’s a good answer, but perhaps not all that helpful; so let’s look at what that means.
When we sin, we weaken, damage (venial sin), or destroy (mortal sin) the life of Grace within us. That means that we become separated from God’s life (that’s what He gives to us in Baptism, Eucharist, prayer, etc.) – and we become more vulnerable to the lies and snares of the Devil. Then we’re much more prone to anxiety and depression and despair and general sadness. We become more and more blinded to the reality of our own sin. We also, because of all this, end up more and more isolated and separated from the Community which is the Church.
Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? And it certainly is – or would be, without the offer of God’s Grace and Mercy given to us through the Sacrament of Confession. Now, because we can become so blinded to our own situation, the Church gives us a bare minimum requirement so that even in that state of stupor caused by sin, we might be led back to the fullness of joy in the life of Grace. That bare minimum requirement (called a precept of the Church – there are either 5 or 7 of these, depending on how you count them) says: “You shall confess your sins at least once per year.” That goes hand-in-hand with the precept to receive Holy Communion at least once per year (in the Easter Season).
So, there’s the ‘obligation’ to confess once a year – but even better (remember, the precepts – like the 10 Commandments – are only the bare minimum) would be to make a regular practice of confession. I find that I need to go at least once every couple of weeks (I’m a bigger sinner than most); but for most people, probably once a month is a good general guideline.
Thanks for another great question. If you have a follow-up question or a comment to add, please do so via our “Three Parish Catholic Family” Facebook page. And keep those questions coming! May God bless you this autumn and always!